My Two Ounces: Public and Private Houses, part 1

Even its critics would admit that Straightbourbon.com is the online heart of American Whiskey fandom. It was founded over ten years ago by Jim Butler, bourbon aficionado and Silicon Valley scientific systems analyst. Butler still owns and operates the site himself. It is an online expression of the community of bourbon-lovers that formed at the gatherings that took place in Bardstown, Kentucky around the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. When the group got too big to meet in their rooms at the Bardstown Best Western, they moved the festivities to the gazebo behind the hotel. The Gazebo has been the spiritual center of this community ever since. The only rules for the Gazebo are that people bring at least one bottle to share (it doesn’t have to be fancy) and bring their own glassware.

The Straightbourbon.com (SB.com hereafter) forums share in the freewheeling spirit of the Gazebo. The chat room attached to Straightbourbon.com is even called The Gazebo. Anyone is welcome and as forums go, it is a pretty polite, easy-going place. It currently has over 7,000 members and by my estimation has close to 100 members who post at least once a week. I am a member there with a few thousand posts under my belt, mostly due to over a year of unemployment. I go by the enigmatic handle Josh (not to be confused with Joshua or Macinjosh).

There are other online bourbonforums and blogs, of course. There is whiskey writer Michael Veach’s Bourbonenthusiast.com forum. There are also the blogs of whiskey writers like The Chuck
Cowdery Blog
, John Hansell’s What does John know? and others. There are also the blogs of amateurs (in the true sense of the term) like bourbondork, sku’s recenteats, and this one. While they all have their place, none have the saloon feel of SB.com.

Not everyone appreciates the feel-wheeling atmosphere of SB.com, though. Complaints have been made about the shifting membership of the forum, the changed tone of the forum from the old days, and the usual complaints about moderators, newbies and trolls. Off and on there would also be heated (by SB.com standards) discussions about the at best gray-market sale and resale of whiskey by forum members.

In reaction to these and other complaints two long-time members of SB.com started a new forum called 1789b earlier this year. The founding of a new forum was nothing new, but what makes 1789b different is that it is a private forum. Membership is only open to those who have been nominated by another member and approved by the membership. If SB.com is a saloon, 1789b is intended to be a private gentlemen’s club in the classic sense of the term. The forum rules state that only mature, active members are desired and that members are expected to behave themselves. Most controversially, members are also required to refrain from any discussion about 1789b with those who are not members of 1789b. This has prompted a few sarcastic nicknames for 1789b from non-members including Super Secret Bourbon Club and Bourbon Fight Club (“The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: you DO NOT talk about Fight Club!”).

A few weeks into 1789b’s existence, I was informed that I had been nominated for membership. My first reaction was surprise. I assumed it had been created specifically to exclude people like me, but out of curiosity and consideration for a few friends who were members already, I joined. It was not what I expected. More on that later.

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